I believe that people can change. I believe this with all of my heart because I have witnessed these changes in myself.
I spent much of my forties angry. I was angry at work and at home. I coped with this anger by self-medicating myself with excessive amounts of alcohol.
Drinking fed my anger and my isolation. Like other problem drinkers, I justified my drinking. I worked hard, I put up with a lot, my wife didn’t always behave the way I expected her to, my kids didn’t appreciate that all the time that I was spending away from home was necessary to pay for our home and lifestyle.
I was scared to show my anger in public. So, I worked hard to shut if off. I wound up shutting off the display of all of my emotions. As a result and, as I learned much later, I came across as a cold, uncaring individual.
The drinking took a toll on my family. My drinking left me unable to provide the support and attention they needed. The little that they did see of me was often when I had too much to drink.
My day of reckoning sounds like the punch-line of a bad joke. I fell off a stool, while changing a light bulb. The stool flipped over and whacked my shin really hard. As I sat on the floor, howling, watching a blood blister form beneath the skin, and feeling incredibly sorry for myself, it literally hit me that I could have injured myself very seriously. I still have a scar on my shin, more than four years later.
The thought that I could fall off a stool and die while drunk never really occurred to me before. I realized how lucky I was.
I stopped drinking.
Since then, my relationships with my wife and my children have improved dramatically. I no longer rage at the world because it is not as it ought to be. My job frustrates me much less and satisfies me much more. I assiduously cultivate my friendships and I make the time to run regularly with my buddies. I share my feelings with others much more easily. And, I no longer believe that people will view personal information that I share with them as a weapon to be used against me.
My colleague, Cate, recently sent me an e-mail. It made my heart sing. “I have noticed a change in you the last few years,” she wrote. “You just seem more at ease, more generous with subordinates. You’re still the smartest guy in the room but a bit less interested in demonstrating it. I was actually quite frightened of you when I first met you some 6 years ago; I doubt that you would have the same effect now.”
E-mails like this one are why I believe that people can change.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.